Jesus said to his disciples, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The theme of today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’ teaching about what the kingdom of heaven would be like. Jesus did not give us a definitive picture of the kingdom of heaven. Instead he told us a story of ten bridesmaids. From the story, we can learn that the coming of the kingdom of heaven is about the coming of grace into the world. And Jesus used this story to teach us on grace. Furthermore, he invited us to recognize and celebrate our experiences of grace and to prepare ourselves for future coming.
Note how Jesus used the future tense “will be” in the opening of today’s Gospel reading. It means that the final and definitive grace has yet to come. What we have experienced at present is the real but partial of the final and definitive grace.
So, there is a waiting for the final and definitive grace. While we are waiting for it, we may feel growing drowsy and falling into sleep. Does Jesus have trouble waking me up when he arrives? I ask for the grace to be alert and responsive to the constant coming of God into my life.
There are different people at different moments in today’s Gospel reading. With them, we can also be touched at different points of the reading. “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (verse 7) is the moment when we are surprised by grace. It is the moment when we feel God is so close to us. He is right here with me. It is a moment that we can never work out before hand or plan. The cry reminds us that we should live in here and now. If we find we are in a situation that does not please God, we should repent and leave that situation without further delay because we don’t know when the bridegroom comes.
Like the foolish bridesmaids, we find that grace is always disturbing. The foolish bridesmaids discover they are running out of oil when the bridegroom comes and their sisters refuse to give them the oil. Our unwillingness to be disturbed leads us to look for practical solution to the difficult situation. Our looking for practical solution drives us to become unreasonable with others and ask them to share what they have with us.
Here we should focus on Jesus’ words: “The wise took flasks of oil with their lamps” and try to figure out what does he mean, instead of the refusal of the wise bridesmaids. With this focus we are invited to look at our own selves instead of others because grace is a very personal. The extra flasks point out what kind of Christians that we are. Are we simply good Christians, or great Christians? Are we simply courageous Christians or heroic Christians? Are we “run-of-the mill” Christians or special Christians. Do we prefer ethics than love?
The moment of grace is a moment that we can never forget. It is just like the moment when the bridegroom enters into the hall. In our life, there are a number of such moments. Can we recall one or few of such moments in our life and try to feel and contemplate the grace in such moments.
Verses 11 and 12: “Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you” are how one feels when one is rejected. Probably we all have such feelings when we regretted that we did not do what we should have done to prevent some bad thing happened.
The final verse: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (verse 13)” serve as a reminders to us that now, not tomorrow or the next minute, is the time to be prepared for the second coming of Jesus.
May we all ask God to help us to be prepared for the second coming of Jesus with “oil and lamps” here and now without further delay. Amen.